Posted by School Poster, a resident of the Menlo Park: University Heights neighborhood, on Sep 8, 2007 at 11:19 am
Menlo Park parent John Fox says that the new plan for the Oak Knoll School campus at 1895 Oak Knoll Lane has given "minimal attention" to pedestrian and bicycle access to the school in comparison to attention to automobile parking and automobile roadway features.
In a message to the school board, he says the proposed design eliminates the area now used for bike parking, and has no area planning for the proposed bike parking.
Below is the text of his message.
Date: Tue, 4 Sep 2007
From: John D. Fox <email@example.com>
Subject: Oak Knoll School Plans, Meeting September 11
Dear Board Members:
I write with regard to the proposed plans for Oak Knoll School and your vote on September 11.
I am writing from the perspective of a parent, with one younger daughter currently attending Oak Knoll, and an older daughter who attended Oak Knoll and Hillview. I am very supportive of efforts to improve and upgrade the various district campuses.
However, I must write with my strong and continuing concerns about the Oak Knoll plans, particularly regarding pedestrian and bicycle access to the school, and the negative impacts of the "extended drop off line."
I attended several public meetings while these plans were being developed, and I think that pedestrian and bicycle access to the school, and the planning to make safe access for children, has received minimal attention in comparison to attention to automobile parking and automobile roadway features.
It seems the purpose of the extended drop-off line is simply to move parked and idling automobiles from Oak Knoll Lane to an interior driveway. It will not eliminate conflicts from a pedestrian cross-walk which must cross the line of traffic, or in any way reduce the congestion during the drop-off or pick-up.
It seems the designers have not made a site visit to see the morning traffic or to understand the existing conditions. The 2002 Safe Routes existing conditions study estimated 15% of the students arrived via bicycle, and with the safe routes features implemented in 2003 it looks like the percentage walking or biking is now higher. As an example, the bike racks at Oak Knoll these first weeks of the new year have had between 135 and 175 bicycles, not counting the parent's bikes.
Yet the design presented eliminates the area now used for bike parking, and has no area planning for the proposed bike parking (while it does identify and count auto spaces). In this new design can you park the number of bicycles that arrived this morning? (what about conditions in a few years?) Shouldn't we include the existing conditions, and plan for even more bicycle parking, as was done for the automobile parking?
Of greater concern is the design which funnels all the pedestrian and bike access to the school through one gate, and again if the designer of this plan would come see the existing conditions at the school, the numbers of students arriving on tandems or trailers, the numbers of pedestrians, the volume of activity in the existing conditions, etc. the negative impact of this proposal would be evident.
Shouldn't we build features which will encourage parents and students to walk and ride to school, rather than build narrow gates which will make access difficult and increase congestion at peak times with parents leaving, students arriving?
I am concerned that the traffic and transportation planning is being done de facto in these designs, and if these plans proceed, it will be very difficult to modify them to be more useful for pedestrians and cyclists.
Last Spring at the Oak Knoll presentation, the staff member who did the layout said he did not consider bicycle or pedestrian access as part of the design. In the public meetings these issues have been brushed aside as something to be fine-tuned in a transportation study.
However, by focusing on the roadway and automobile access in the design, you have limited the pedestrian and bicycle options for the sites.
I ask the school board to recognize that implementing these design features without understanding the impact on pedestrians and bicyclists is a disservice to the children as well as the larger community.
I urge the board to remove the "extended drop off" from the design plans as they are now structured. Instead, I ask the board to instruct transportation planners to look for means to improve the existing auto drop-off, and to look for ways to increase the pedestrian and bike access features at the school.
It is in everyone's interest, be they students, parents, teachers or neighbors, to have fewer cars converging at 8:10 AM and 2:55 PM at the school parking lot.
Posted by Kristin Duriseti, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Sep 11, 2007 at 2:56 pm
Please consider my letter to the Board of Education:
11 September 2007
Dear Members of the Menlo Park Board of Education,
I urge you to critically assess the facility development plan for Oak Knoll Elementary School being presented this evening at the Board meeting. In particular, I ask you to seriously question the need for the proposed parking lot off Oak Ave. and reevaluate the implementation of the drop-off and pick-up lanes. The reason that I continue to press for reconsideration is that adhering to a plan that incorporates extensive parking and drop-off/pick-up lanes imposes severe constraints on the use of valuable real estate and, thus, compromises the overall building design. The data that I have collected demonstrate that parking adequate for the Oak Knoll staff can be obtained by restructuring the existing parking lot and that the problems associate with drop-off and pick-up, in particular, are better addressed through operational changes.
Proposed Oak Ave. Parking Lot
At the May 16, 2007, Board meeting, Superintendent Ranella indicated that 85 parking spaces would fulfill the parking needs for the full-time and part-time staff at Oak Knoll. The existing parking lot off Oak Knoll Lane at the front of the school can be modified to add 12 additional parking spaces by changing the parallel parking spaces located at the northwest edge of campus into 45° angled parking spaces. This is accomplished by preserving 20’ wide lanes along the edge of the campus buildings (adequate for fire department access and conforming to City of Menlo Park regulations for two lanes of traffic) and a 12.5’ single lane of traffic entering the campus. Along the northwest edge of campus, there is a row of trees situated 7’ from the parallel parking spaces and 5’ from the fence. Accommodating the angled parking may possibly alter the current straight edge of the parking spaces to a “zig-zag” configuration.
At the last board meeting, substantial discussion was given to the cost of constructing new parking spaces. I expect that restructuring the existing parking on Oak Knoll Lane to accommodate 56 cars would be substantially more cost-effective than building a new parking lot. Furthermore, retaining the additional parking spots in the existing parking lot would eliminate the need to obtain a curb cut at a dangerous location off Oak Ave., as currently proposed, or off Oak Knoll Ave. (which would be even worse from a safety point-of-view).
The need for 95 parking spots, as currently proposed in Scheme O, or the minimum of 90 spots (to include 5 “visitor” parking spaces), as directed by the Board on April 25, 2007, awards a disproportionate share of scarce land area to parking. At 8.7 acres, the Oak Knoll campus is 81% of the recommended size for an elementary school serving 680 to 700 students. The maximum number of parking spaces for a campus of this size is 102. A proportionate percentage of parking is 83 parking spots (81% of 102). According to Ranella’s assessment, 85 parking spaces meet the parking needs for Oak Knoll's staff, which is within an acceptable margin of 83 spots, is both adequate and just. Given that the square footage allotted for play space in Scheme O is less than 50% of the play area specified by the state for the size of the Oak Knoll student body, I question a plan that prioritizes the preservation of 95% of the maximum allowed parking spaces for a campus 25% larger, when that need is not clearly demonstrated.
Last spring, shortly after the Preliminary Traffic Analysis conducted by Sandis in April, 2007, I spent several days assessing traffic patterns. Clearly, the need to mitigate the negative impact for my neighbors on Oak Knoll Lane north of campus is obvious and compelling. It was immediately apparent to me that much of the traffic congestion is due to operational mismanagement rather than facility restrictions. For example, these are my observations on a particular afternoon:
1) After 30 minutes, only 75 cars had passed through the pick-up area.
2) It took 20 minutes after the end of school for the first six cars in line to pick up their children.
3) At most, six cars were able to load passengers at a time.
4) There was no procedure for facilitating the passage of students from the classroom to the cars.
5) “Queuing” at the exit of the parking lot onto Oak Knoll Lane never caused a back-up.
6) There were 135 cars parked along Oak Ave., White Oak, and Oak Knoll Lane (including cars parked both legally and illegally).
7) At early morning kindergarten pick-up, drivers of 55 cars (representing 70% of the 80 morning kindergarten students) parked and walked; there was no queue at all in the pick-up lanes.
If we assume that parents with children in afternoon kindergarten will park and walk at the same rate as parents with children in morning kindergarten, then 42 (or roughly 1/3) of the 135 cars parked in the neighborhood in the afternoon would park in any case. I would expect that this pattern of parking and walking would continue in the lower elementary grades, although probably at a declining rate. As a conservative estimate, I would expect another 30 parents would park and walk to pick up their older children (approximately 1 car per classroom), if only to check in with a teacher, for example. Thus, roughly half of the drivers, representing only 10% of the students, who currently park and walk, would prefer to use the pick-up lanes, if it were more convenient.
When I informally surveyed the drivers queued in the pick-up lanes, I repeatedly heard the same complaint regarding the inadequacy of the pick-up procedure: the students simply didn’t arrive at the pick-up area in a timely manner. This is obvious from even a cursory evaluation. At Challenger school, where my son was a student in the past, they manage to load 250 elementary aged children, 4 cars at a time, within 15 minutes. I imagine that Oak Knoll might manage loading fewer students with more cars in less than thirty minutes. Laurel Elementary School also has implemented successfully a similar program that also loads students within 15 minutes.
Furthermore, the Preliminary Traffic Analysis does not accurately represent the existing conditions. The report suggests that “The majority of parents park on Oak Knoll Lane and walk their children to campus” (page 2, section V). In fact, as evidenced by the nearly 200 bikes parked daily in the racks, plus trailers, a steady stream of pedestrians every day, and a count of less than 200 parked cars, I would argue that the majority of students walk or bike to school. The analysis attributes traffic congestion to the unmitigated passage of students at the crosswalk that “essentially [traps cars] on campus and has resulted in parents parking in the surrounding neighborhoods instead of utilizing the on-campus loading zone” (emphasis added, page 2, section V); my data do not confirm this conclusion. The Preliminary Traffic Analysis reports that under existing conditions, 168 cars are able to cycle through the pick-up area by loading 14 cars at a time. Clearly, these data do not conform to the existing conditions. In fact, according the Sandis report, the approximately 75 cars that actually use the pick-up lanes should dissipate within 15 minutes (page 3, section VII). The recommendation to lengthen the drop-off/pick-up lanes in order to accommodate over 300 cars clearly overestimates the real demand and imposes an unnecessary claim on land use (page 4, section VIII). The proposed extension represents 1% of land, equivalent to the play space allocated to 10 students. Again, I question the prioritization of land use.
Lastly, adding a few more cars to the queue on-campus will not alleviate the concerns of neighbors located on Oak Knoll north of the school, since the problem is operational in nature, and will unsafely sandwich pedestrians and bicyclists between cars exiting the proposed drop-off lanes and cars queuing at the intersection of Oak Ave. and Oak Knoll Lane. A configuration closer to that presented in the Measure B Bond proposal will allow students to load at the front corner of the school, where there is more room for kids to congregate than in front of the office. Rather than paying lip service to the legitimate needs of my neighbors on Oak Knoll and the repeatedly concern expressed at these meetings by parents of students who walk and bike, please provide genuine direction to the Site Planning Committee and insist on a real solution to the problem.
Change, at what cost?
These modifications still allow the school to meet its operational and educational objectives while better addressing the needs of the neighborhood. As an added benefit, my proposal frees up valuable land to design one story classrooms, instead of the current proposal for a two-story building, which is more in keeping with the character of the neighborhood, which certainly would be less expensive and would likely allow for the preservation of both large, heritage oak trees along Oak Ave. Despite repeated attempts to cast the neighborhood as “urban,” this neighborhood is residential; preserving the residential character is part of the responsibility of the Board, as clearly indicated by the established design criteria.
As long as the educational and operational objectives are met, I believe there should be some concession made to the impact of the proposal on the neighborhood. Scheme O does not represent a concession; Scheme O reshuffles the same elements. The original Measure U Bond presented to the voters in June 2006 preserved the front playfield and proposed new construction of classrooms, multipurpose room, and parking at the rear of the school. The proposals presented to the public since then completely reverse every expectation. Yes, we live near a school, which comes with certain advantages and disadvantages, but it does not mean that we must abdicate every interest, especially when our interests are compatible. It is unreasonable that you ask the neighbors of Oak Knoll Elementary to shoulder every burden of the proposed construction. I am asking that of the four impactful elements—the multipurpose room, the classrooms, the parking lot, and the loading zone lanes—please remove one of them, namely the parking lot, and reduce the other, the loading lanes. These requests are not obstructionist, but rather a reasoned compromise. Last spring, I believed what I thought was a sincere intent to include the neighbors on further design developments. Needless to say, I was surprised to receive notice of Scheme O (several iterations beyond Scheme F presented last spring) on August 29 without a single note of communication over the summer.
I reiterate my plea made on previous occasions that you take a measure of time to adequately vet the proposal for Oak Knoll. Yes, the school district is under pressure to accommodate an increasing student population, but this is irrelevant to facility development at Oak Knoll. The time pressure extends to plans to restructure Encinal or reclaim the O’Connor facility, which in turn, will reduce the student body at Oak Knoll. The population pressure at Oak Knoll will be relieved only by increasing student enrollment at Encinal or O’Connor. One might reasonably argue that I have a vested interest in expediting the construction at Oak Knoll in order to benefit my younger son when he enters kindergarten in a few years. Instead, I urge caution. Every person involved in facility development across the school district is under intense pressure to perform. Address the more critical facility needs at Hillview, Encinal, and O’Connor; Oak Knoll is clearly a lower priority.
Thank you for your consideration.